On May 7 and 8, the Ishyo Arts Centre partnered with the National Museums of Rwanda to hold a workshop on Cultural Heritage Conservation at the Kandt Museum in Nyarugenge.
The workshop aimed to raise awareness among culture professionals of Rwanda about the need to preserve the country's heritage. The eight people who attended included representatives from Ishyo, the Ministry of Sports and Culture, and the National Museums of Rwanda.
"First, we had to lay out the basic principles of cultural heritage," said Oriane Ruzibiza, Executive Director at Ishyo. "We looked at the different measures of safeguarding cultural heritage, tangible and intangible, and we also had assignments applying all these conservation and safeguarding principles to the Rwandan case."
According to the 2003 UNESCO Convention, tangible cultural heritage typically refers to places and monuments, while intangible cultural heritage encompasses songs, language, history, poetry, craftsmanship, rituals, and social ceremonies.
"We examined the challenges and opportunities, and who is in charge of protecting and putting to use this heritage," said Ruzibiza. "Who are the main stakeholders in the conservation of cultural heritage?"
The workshop was particularly poignant given the recent challenges faced by the Ishyo Arts Centre.
Last week, Ishyo received a notice that the arts centre in Kacyiru was to be sold by Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB). Although the news had been anticipated, it still instigated an immediate backlash from artists and art enthusiasts who took to the internet to demand a delay.
"The reason why the reaction has been so deep has not been because the RSSB wants to sell, but it involves Ishyo closing which is a very tragic situation for the culture of this country," said Ruzibiza. "Closing Ishyo is taking many steps backward in the promotion of culture and development in Kigali, and Rwanda in general."
Fortunately, Ishyo was granted an extension until 30 September. However, the impending closure of the arts centre demonstrates the lack of infrastructure to support the conservation of Rwandan culture.
"We are an oral society," said Ruzibiza. "We are losing many people. The elders are dying and are taking all this knowledge with them. We have to take the opportunity right now to document everything."
One of Ishyo's current projects is the Ejo Dance Centre, an online documentation centre on dance, which encompasses traditional and contemporary Rwandan dance. Recently, Jeannette Ginslov, a screendance maker, led a one week workshop that trained Rwandan filmmakers and camera crew how to film dance. Ishyo has now enlisted the help of a researcher and filmmaker who are traveling throughout Rwanda's provinces to film the masters of every type of traditional Rwandan dance.
"The art community has a feeling that it has to be done, and it has to be done now," said Ruzibiza. "We can't wait for more years, we can't let other people just disappear so we can't access for future generations."
Ruzibiza views the conservation of cultural heritage as an integral component of Rwandan identity. She also says that the workshop is a "first shot" that will be followed by additional workshops organised by the Ministry of Sports and Culture to reach and benefit more Kigalians.
"We want Kigalians to support by participating," said Ruzibiza. "Community is one of the main stakeholders in the preservation of art and culture. The more you support it, the more it stays alive."